Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Freedom to express ourselves a double-edged, smutty sword

Immigrants must reel at barrage of vulgar imagery

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Modern Canadians, of a secular or religious bent, can only shake their heads at the details of that Ontario honour-killing sentencing this week.

Imagine, a father thinking it better to kill his daughter over her rebellious behaviour than to appear weak in the eyes of his community!

It defies belief. At least it does to us. We are, after all, modern Canadians.

But imagine immigrating here from a conservative country, where sexual and social mores have been straitjacketed by hundreds of years of tradition.

You would see many things here, too, that beggar belief.

You might see, for example, a publicity photo of an impossibly pneumatic pop singer, Christina Aguilera, dressed in skin-tight black leather, kneeling on all fours, with her rump in the air and her tongue outstretched like a cat's.

You might see, on the Internet website of a mainstream Winnipeg radio station, a picture of the Queen of England doctored so that she is naked and sitting on a toilet.

You might walk into a suburban multiplex and see a movie called Sex and the City 2, in which an aging temptress, referring to a handsome Arab, says, "He's the Lawrence of my labia!"

You might read a magazine article reporting what junior high school girls wear and do in the service of keeping their boyfriends.

You might sit down in front of a television and see a popular comedian, Sacha Baron-Cohen, pantomiming an explicit act of fellatio, at great lip-smacking length, in a mainstream Hollywood movie.

If you were parachuted into modern Canada from a conservative South Asian or North African culture, and saw these things, you could be forgiven for thinking "who is crazy here?"

In the last week or two, I have come across all these things, which are a drop in the bucket of the provocative images and ideas that saturate our culture.

But because I am a modern Canadian male -- with a daughter a little older than the murdered 16-year-old in Toronto -- I can shrug them off.

In fact, if I want to be honest with myself, I'd have to admit that all these insipidly vulgar expressions represent the logical extension of my godless liberal world view.

The coarsening of modern society is a curious thing. On the one hand, it has been going on for so long that we cease to notice.

On the other, we're struck by how far and fast things have moved (should I say declined?) in the past couple of generations.

It seems it was just yesterday when Laura and Rob Petrie, the happily married sitcom couple in The Dick Van Dyke Show, retired each night to separate single beds.

Now we get sitcoms like Two and a Half Men and Californication where almost nothing is left to the imagination.

Don't get me wrong. I do not advocate a return to a mythical "simpler time" where expressions of human sexuality were considered beyond the pale.

Nor, of course, could I ever live in a culture that rigidly enforced outdated codes of male and female behaviour.

The freedom and openness of our society that produces its vulgar extremes (its vulgar mainstream might be a more accurate description) are what propels us forward economically and scientifically.

Aside from a few bedraggled Afghans, almost nobody immigrates to a repressive place like Pakistan, where that honour-killing father came from.

But people from all over the world clamour for entry to a place like Canada. The flow of humanity is always from closed societies to open ones, where people can express themselves as they see fit and to make a better life for their children.

Still, one can imagine that Pakistani-immigrant father's pain. When he chose Canada (if in fact he chose it), he likely could not grasp the vast gulf that separates his old culture from his new one.

All his daughter wanted was to live in her new world with all its gaudy imagery and materialism.

Nothing justifies her murder. But even someone who has lived here his whole life can grasp the forces that led to her terrible end.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2010 C7

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